Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has issued a stern warning to the country's miners about environmental damage, saying that he might close the mining sector completely and tax miners ‘to death’ if damage persists.

During his State of the Nation address on Monday, the President also said that he wanted to stop exporting mineral resources and encourage value adding through domestic processing.

“The protection of the environment must be made a priority ahead of mining and all other activities that adversely affect one way or another,” he said. “This policy is non-negotiable.”

The Philippines is the world’s biggest supplier of nickel ore and also among the top producers of copper and gold, but data from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau indicates that the sector contributes less than 1% to the country’s economy.

Miners have been under fire from Duterte’s government since he took office in June 2016 for alleged violations that include building mines in prohibited areas like watersheds. He says that miners have ‘considerably neglected’ their duty to protect the environment and to repair damage done by mining.

“You have to come up with a substitute, either spend to restore the virginity of the source or I will tax you to death,” he said this week.

He also said he wanted all mineral resources extracted from the country to be processed domestically before being exported. “I call on our industrialists, investors, commercial barons to put up factories and manufacturing establishments right here in the Philippines to process our raw materials into finished products.

“If possible, we shall put a stop to the extraction and exportation of our mineral resources ... for processing abroad and importing them back to the Philippines in the form of consumer goods at prices twice or thrice the value of the raw materials,” he said.

Following the President’s address this week, the country’s Chamber of Mines said it supported the call for responsible mining. “We share the President’s frustration against illegal mining practices and support his desire for mining companies to be responsible in paying taxes and as stewards of the environment,” the chamber said in a statement.

However, it said it was not in favour of the call to ban the export of raw minerals. Chamber vice-president Ronald Recidoro said that no one wanted to go into mineral processing because of the high costs of putting up plants in the Philippines.

He said incentives should be put in place first to encourage businessmen to put up mineral processing plants.

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